STRANDED: Downtown Cambridge small business owners pay heavy toll in wake of COVID-19 pandemic

·3 min read

Small businesses are facing additional obstacles to their survival as they’re hit hard by another provincial shutdown.

Shane Murphy, who owns Clippers (85 Dickson St.), a hair salon that’s operated in the Galt core for 42 years, was shut down for three months by a provincial decree that ended in mid-June.

“It's a lot of money that I've lost – and I'll never get that back,” she said.

With her aging clientele, Murphy said she was “too nervous” and had to be “extremely careful,” refusing to accept new patrons unless they’ve been recommended to her.

She was hoping to retire in “four or five years,” but now wonders if that’s still manageable when she’s not growing her business, she added.

Tina Chaves, owner of City Appliances, said a lot of small business owners use their personal assets for financing, so when they close their doors, “you lose everything.”

“When you lose your business, often you lose your house, and all your personal belongings go with it, because small businesses usually have to personally guarantee everything.”

Murphy questioned the value of allowing big box stores to remain open while the province toughens restrictions elsewhere.

“I clean, I sanitize, I do questionnaires, and what really bothers me is the government still letting big box stores operate. And I get less people, but they can still sell whatever they want – and that really bothers me.”

Chaves, whose store at 1 Wellington St. sells washers, home appliances and mattresses, said a Walmart or Costco should have to “roll off” items other than essentials like groceries and pharmaceuticals.

They “get to do what they want,” she explained.

Murphy added she can't afford to keep having delays on returning to work.

“I'm willing to do this lockdown and abide by all the rules. But after 28 days, I need to come back to work. Financially, I have to be back at my job.”

Thirteen Food and Beverage, which normally has capacity for 150 diners, did fairly well in the summertime with its large patio.

Heading from the orange zone to red, which allows ten diners indoors, “makes things difficult” in the winter, said Matt Rolleman, an owner. The restaurant, located on 13 Main St., has needed to operate with “dramatically” reduced staff as a result.

Across the road, at 16 Ainslie St. S., Monigram coffee shop owner Graham Braun reported having to scale down this year.

“One of the saddest things is when, when the volume and revenue is lower, we are employing fewer people.”

His business protected the full-time hours of staff with families, but had to reduce its hours of operation by almost five hours a day for six days out of the week.

“So even though there's fewer employees here, there's less available hours,” he said.

His business has expanded to online ordering and delivery, which has been a major earning source, but during the shutdown, he expects less than half of their normal revenues.

“We never got to the same staffing levels as we were prior to the first lockdown,” he noted.

Swikar Oli, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cambridge Times